Tom Salta Reinvents A Career: From Music Programming & Producing To Multimedia
Salta installs a Sky System One.
Career reinvention can be a tricky business move, but for Tom Salta, the transformation from programmer/producer to award-winning composer for film, television, advertising and video games has been rewarding, lucrative and extensive… to say the least.
Combining his expertise in programming and mixing hit records with a diverse array of popular artists—Peter Gabriel, Junior Vasquez, Everything But The Girl, Mary J. Blige and Sinead O’Connor—Salta has lent his high-energy mix of electronica, orchestral, breakbeat and rock grooves to television shows, commercials, film promos and before delving deep into the world of video game music scoring. Working under the name “Atlas Plug” (Atlas is Salta spelled backwards), he began building a solid resume of acclaimed video game projects including the musical score for Red Steel, Ubisoft’s exclusive first-person action title for the Nintendo Wii, which won IGN’s Award for “Best Original Score”, and his live orchestral score for the top selling Xbox 360 video game, Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter (GRAW), nominated for “Best Original Video Game Score” at the MTV Video Music Awards.
“I had this realization about a decade ago,” he recalls. “I had amassed 15 years of experience as an artist in a whole other industry. Playing around on my Xbox one day, I had this epiphany that video game music was the future, and that’s where I needed to be. I had been an avid gamer since I was a kid—we’re talking pre-Atari 2600, but I never saw those two things converging. I wanted to use my assets as a programmer and producer, so I began by creating an album of electronica—2 Days Or Die (Persist Records)—which would be perfect for licensing to commercials, TV films, and film trailers. I wanted to create something cutting-edge that had a long life and could be my gateway into the game industry. And the plan seemed to work out because before the album was finished, I got a call from my publisher that Microsoft wanted to license several of the songs for a game called RalliSport Challenge 2. Few of the songs were actually completed; they were just pieces of ideas. But that gave me great motivation to finish, and from there, I saw the potential of what I could do. That was my transitioning into the industry, and enabled me to slowly start getting more and more composing and original scoring gigs because I had credits behind me. It took several years to break in and slowly but surely, it escalated from there, and has been non-stop ever since.”
Creating game scores has an inherent challenge in that the lead-times are often very short. In some instances, Salta’s been given merely six weeks to deliver, complete with live orchestral score recorded and mixed. On average, it’s about 2-3 months of creation time if there are no delays in the game development itself. Such was the case in his most recent work for two blockbuster franchises, Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands (for Sony PSP, Nintendo Wii and Nintendo DS), and also reprised his role on Red Steel 2 (he scored Red Steel 1 in 2006), releasing in May. “The end of last year was pretty crazy,” he laughs. “Several of the projects that were supposed to be spread out through the year, coincided at the same time. And they were both very different. They’re both unique projects that allowed me to research music that I’d never had the opportunity to listen to extensively. It’s like an actor preparing for a role. But more importantly, I focus on making sure that my vision is in sync with the game creators; it’s not about me but the music supporting the games and the emotion we’re trying to create for the characters and for the players.”
On Red Steel 2, Salta was called up to create a ‘Wild-West meets-Far East’ fusion of music. “It’s a very fun and aggressive sword-fighting/gun-slinging action game and the music had to support that style of gameplay. I loved creating high-octane, guitar-driven, Western-inspired riffs combined with Asian percussion—a fusion that I’ve never composed before.”
The score for Prince of Persia The Forgotten Sands was a completely different style all together. “I took it in a direction that was very atmospheric and otherworldly, combining intricately woven details and live instruments to create an exotic, colorful and engaging score. That was a dream come true for me. Before I’d even gotten into the industry, I used to play Prince of Persia games over the years, way back when it was in 2D. I had all these ideas in my head for that game, years before I knew I’d be given the opportunity to score it. Scoring the music for the Prince of Persia series is definitely a dream come true.”
At the heart of Salta’s computer-based home studio is a Blue Sky Sky System One system comprised of Sat 6.5 monitors, a Sub 12 and BMC. An unpleasant monitor purchase in 2002 led him to the Blue Sky’s and he’s been a fan ever since.
“I purchased a pair of speakers for a project I was working on back in 2002,” he recalls. “I was not happy with them at all. It was so confusing because I had to buy separate components for turning speakers on and off, a separate crossover for the bass…it was a nightmare. On top of that, they weren’t the kind of speaker I was used to listening to. Sure I could tell what kind of direction they were coming from but I didn’t know how to mix on them. So I sent them back. In the meantime, I was doing a lot of research and I read something about the Blue Sky’s and that Skywalker Sound had installed them, so I got a pair. Right from the start they were really great to mix on. They did everything I needed, were easy to calibrate, and had the built-in bass management controller and volume knob in one box. I immediately was comfortable listening to them. They were accurate and neither over-hyped nor under-hyped, and I knew what I was listening to. And, they translated very well no matter where I went, including a mastering studio. Since then, I don’t feel the need to switch speakers to compare things; I just know what’s going on. I’m so dialed into these things. I could take a mix I did on the Blue Sky’s, play it on a laptop, and it sounds perfect. I’ve gotten such high compliments from people who have said, ‘I love your mixes. The bass is tight and everything is very well-balanced.’ That comes with time, but it’s also from having the right speakers.”